Sunday, 6 January 2013

2012: My Bests and Worsts

So a year of 2012 films comes to an end. I feel I must confess that with travels and all there was a bit of a lack of 2012 vintage films for me to choose from to make up these lists. Now that I’ve put them together it also seems that it was mostly mainstream Hollywood films I watched this year, or perhaps it was just that 2012 was a great year for Hollywood. Below are my picks for the best and worst films of the year. I hope you enjoyed (or derided) them as much as I did.

The Best (in no particular order)

An original screenplay is like an endangered species these days in a world of adaptations and sequels. A film that is not only original but also intelligent is such a rare beast it would be a crime not to make my best of list. The film doesn’t get bogged down in the specifics of time travel but instead simply uses it as a plot tool. Joseph Gordon Levitt (a man who can do no wrong IMO) does a fabulous job of being Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis does a pretty good job of being Bruce Willis too.

Like his previous outing The Town Ben Affleck shows us how great he can be behind the camera. In fact, he’s probably better behind it than in front of it. Argo does a remarkable job of keeping the audience on the edge of our seats and gripping the armrests in suspense when we already know exactly how the film ends. A solid supporting cast including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide enough star power without detracting from the story. My only complaint is that with all the big lapels, moustaches, glasses and hair I got a couple of the characters confused at times.

Firstly let’s be honest, it’s no Alien. Ellie is no Ripley and the team as a whole don’t play off each other as well as in the earlier film. But the film is gorgeously shot right from the opening scenes (filmed in my favourite country, Iceland) with a plot that nods enough to Alien while still doing enough to be a great film on its own terms. Ellie’s caesarean scene holds its place in my mind as the most horrifying and squirm-inducing depiction of childbirth since the early work of David Cronenberg. Loved it.

Bond is back and Skyfall is Craig’s best. I was never as much a fan of Casino Royale as others (no-one really seems to be a fan of Quantum of Solace); it all just seemed a bit like Bond was trying to be Jason Bourne. I don’t want endless brooding, shaky camera and shadowy organisations as villains. I want insane, deformed baddies and double entendres galore. Skyfall was the best of both worlds. While still staying true to the style of the earlier Craig films, this was a more traditional Bond. Bardem is one of the best Bond bad guys in years and the homoerotic undertones between Silva and Bond are entrancing. Also great is the debate throughout the film on the relevance of MI6 and spies like Bond in the modern era.

Cabin in the Woods
A film that divided audiences it seems, but one that I loved. Like Wes Craven’s Scream (one of my favourite films), it delved into why it is we like horror and what we want from it. It turned a lot of people off who felt cheated that this wasn’t a horror movie, but I feel that this mis-marketing was intentional. The ending of the film itself is a reflection of audience response at being denied what they paid to see. The film anticipated its own reception. That’s so Joss Whedon.

The Worst (from bad to worst)

Magic Mike
Let’s be honest, I pretty much only watched this film because I knew it would either make my best or worst for the year. Wow. This film is completely unexpected boring. There were far too many scenes in which there was no stripping. It also probably doesn’t help that neither Channing Tatum nor Matthew McConaughey are my type. Only one of the plot points is resolved – the one where Channing Tatum has a crush on the grumpiest woman alive – everything else is just forgotten about.

Way too long with leads that are uncharismatic at best (the two guys) and rage-inducing at worst (Blake Lively). Probably the worst use of voice-over I’ve ever heard. Blake Lively plays a woman who’s received a tertiary education but needs to look up the dictionary definition of “savage”. Also she compares her sex life with one of her boyfriends to his experiences in Afghanistan thusly “I had orgasms, he had wargasms”. I think my IQ just dropped 10 points typing that.

Piranha 3DD
Perhaps some will see this and wonder why I bothered, but I was a genuine fan of Piranha 3D. Sure, it was no Citizen Kane, but it perfectly blended senseless gore, lots of boobies and just enough story to keep you caring about the characters. The sequel however did not. Its sole redeeming feature was 2 original songs by David Hasselhoff. There was no story, or at least none that even made sense in its own universe. The characters were so forgettable I’m not entirely sure why they bothered naming them. Also, the trailer promised me double the Ds, and if anything there were less Ds….but possibly more vagina.

Here’s looking forward to a great year of film for 2013. I eagerly anticipate bests that are better and worsts that are more ludicrous.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Hobbit: A Completely Expected Journey

I finish my viewing of The Hobbit Part 1 with totally mixed feelings. Chief among my disappointment however is that this is exactly the way I expected to feel following it. I wish that Peter Jackson had blown me away with a fantastic vision comparable to LOTR or left me outraged at his desecration of the text. Alas, to be somewhere in the middle, devoid of strong emotion is depressing.

Don’t get me wrong, on the whole The Hobbit was a viewing pleasure. Visually dazzling (and I only saw it in 2D, none of this 48FPS – I’m a traditionalist), amazing attention to detail with the art direction and costuming, an emotional and appropriate score (more on music later), and great performances from the leads. I had a few reservations about Martin Freeman as Bilbo but for me the guy nails it. The dwarves I admit were a little less impressive. Not so much in terms in terms of performance as character development. I know 13 is a large number of dwarves to create distinct characters for, but apart from a few they all seem to blend in to one another. You’ve got Thorin, the leader; Balin, the fatherly one; the fat one; then there’s one inexplicably good-looking one… he pretty much only has a 5 o’clock shadow compared to the other dwarves, he’s never shown using forced perspective (ie he’s never shown to look short and squat), he even fights with a bow and arrow rather than a traditional dwarf weapon like an axe or sword. It’s like Peter Jackson thought “we need a Aragorn/Legolas in this party”. It actually kind of distracts from the film he seems so out of place. The other 9 dwarves? I’ve kind of forgotten already.

Pictured: smouldering good looks not usually associated with the dwarf race

My number one complaint with the film is simply that it feels a little too much like LOTR: The Prequel. I appreciate the use of the same locations for places like The Shire and Rivendell, but other elements borrow too much from the previous films. The score, while spectacular, borrowed many themes from LOTR like it was trying to create the same emotions and perhaps recreate those films. I wish instead that Howard Shore had taken a chance and done something different with this one. I know it’s a little nit-picky, the score was really good, but it detracted from the film by making the audience constantly compare it to its predecessor. Perhaps too the film would have benefitted from a different director. I mourn the loss of Guillermo del Toro; whose vision I feel could only have altered this universe for the better and allowed The Hobbit to stand alone. With Peter Jackson at the helm An Unexpected Journey is just a little too expected.

Splitting the story into 3 films is another thing that I’m no less apprehensive about having seen the first one. I feel if they just stuck to the content of the book they could have made one great movie, but instead they’ve added a whole lot of extra content that doesn’t always gel. The best parts of the movie are undoubtedly the elements that come straight from the book. The scenes with Gollum are easily the highlight; Andy Serkis is a genius. The 3 parts also leaves me worried about what is to come in Part 2. I have no doubt it’s going to be another 3 hour long epic and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first 2 hours is a whole lotta wandering around Mirkwood. I seriously fear it might turn out a bit like Harry Potter and the Great Camping Trip (Deathly Hallows Part 1). At least with the title The Desolation of Smaug set in stone I’m guaranteed some dragon at the end. Part 1 was beautifully restrained with regards to Smaug. Jackson managed to show us a whole battle scene featuring Smaug while never showing us more than a claw or a tail. That anticipation for Smaug is the number one thing keeping me excited for Boxing Day this year.